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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’

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Abuse NeglectRehab Part 1
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CalmingTrg 1 sided horses
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Train Outside the Box
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Winter Training Workouts

Calming/Training One Sided Equine

 

My young Arabian horse allowed me to lunge it to the left and to mount it on its left side without moving his feet. On the ground and mounted it walked around the round pen in a slow walk. Everything was perfect. At least as long as we were going left.  As soon as we were going right, things started to change. Suddenly he did not want to lunge or did for a few strides then stopped and faced me.  Mounted it stopped or did not want to go faster and if it did it was unbalanced and fearful. This is that interesting phenomenon of the two hemispheres of the horse’s brain. They are interconnected but horses can focus on two different things at the same time. They can watch a potential threat on one side and be curious about something else on the other. According to one high profile natural horse trainer right-brain horses tend to be submissive, fearful, not confident, nervous and reactive. That pretty much described what Blaze was in his current stage of development. He could not stand still easily, panicked easily because of a perceived threat and was always very alert on his right side. I felt that right brain extrovert did not really describe who he was because of my hand writing experience.  My school teacher required me a left-handed student to write with my right hand, regardless of the fact that it's was not a natural instinct or comfort zone for me a left-hander. Did I learn to go against my natural instincts?  Absolutely!  Many Left-handed people have been forced to live in a right-handed world. Was it an ideal scenario for me?  No; it was extremely frustrating and it disregarded my inherent skills and instincts and forced me to adopt someone else's natural ways.  Today I; write right hand, golf right hand, play hockey left handed and baseball left and right handed! 


How do you know & how do you fit it?

Does your horse willingly bend in one direction, but not as much in the other? When you enter the work with it does it block you from one side, does he prefer lunging or circling on a bend in his better-bend direction? At the lope, does he prefer the lead on that same side?  If so, he's likely what I call a one-sided horse, meaning he prefers using one side of his body over the other. He's more agile and flexible on his favorite side, thus more comfortable traveling in that direction.  If so you'll have to begin calming and suppling your horse using foundation of ground training exercises.  The horse specific ground exercises will greatly improve his less flexible side, so you can develop a more supple, balanced horse that works well in both directions.

You will need to bend your horse's less supple side on a circle and then on a straight line. First you'll establish that your horse is soft, light, calm and supple on the ground by using flexion, bending on a circle and lateral movements to target the side that needs work.  Finally you will transfer what your horse has learned into the saddle. 


Scientific Research

No matter what discipline we ride, odds are that we’ve experienced a horse that’s described as "one-sided.”  Just like humans, who generally prefer using their right or left hand for everyday tasks, horses can be naturally right-sided or left-sided. This is evidenced by being more balanced in one direction than the other. For example, they easily take one lead but will struggle or avoid altogether taking the non dominant lead, which is rough and unbalanced if they do get it. Or, they become worried and tense when asked to work on their non dominant side. Over the years, we’ve gained new information about learning and brain function to help our horses develop symmetry and balance. Know this we can use different training methods to help them achieve greater confidence and athleticism no matter what discipline they’re performing.” 

 

Scientific Research has shown that the equines brain does allow messages to be shared and transmitted between right and left hemispheres.  Therefore is as fully developed in horses as it is in humans. This means that horses have cross-hemisphere connections, so they can perform an action on one side of the brain or body and the knowledge will transfer to the other side. In the past we believed that horses lacked the ability to pass information from left to right hemispheres. This was also the intent of having to "train both eyes” (working on both sides of the horse) because it was believed that each eye saw different things and could not transfer information. 

 

As it turns out, horses have as much cross-brain eye connections as humans have. Rather than attributing the challenges of using the non dominant side to an incomplete connection in the horse’s brain, it is more accurate to describe it as the feeling we experience when trying to write with our non dominant hand.  To help bring the horse into balance we begin and continue the horses training by working on the ground and refine it in the saddle. 

 

If our horse has difficulty doing desensitizing or sensitizing simple exercises equally on both sides while we’re working on the ground, it certainly won’t be able to maintain a balanced mind and body when we’re on its back. 

 

Thinking outside the Box

Before starting to work on improving your relationship with your horse, it’s important to understand some of the theoretical background to the suggested exercises and the advice offered. This article is based on scientifically researched principles, theories of equine behavior and my proven experience. An old adage states that "all roads lead to Rome" and a similar context can be applied towards horse training. Whereas there are false paths that will lead to an unproductive or miserable relationship with a horse, the fact of the matter is many paths lead to success. As long as the trainer believes in understanding equine behavior and psychology rather than dominating a horse through violence or fear, chances are its path is one of those that will lead to success.  Training is not an exact science or emulation – it's a natural flow that should bring out the highest level of comfort and confidence between you and your horse. Earlier I mentioned; years ago left-handed writing was deemed improper, we should look upon horse training in the same context. Although we can follow one trainer's style to the letter, we may later find that had we tweaked a few things here or there you would have been even more efficient or confident. Horse owners and trainers should possess confidence in their own actions and ability before attempting to guide a horse!  An integral part of this process is to understand equine behavior and using equine psychology lending that confidence to the horse to reassure the horse that the foreign stimuli and behaviors introduced to it are nothing to worry about. If you're uncomfortable with your requests, you can bet your horse will probably pick up on your hesitation or awkwardness

 

Reading the signs and rewards

Horses communicate with Body Language and express themselves with movement.  They are excellent at reading even very small changes in body language – theirs and ours, and if we give them the chance, they will respond willingly to tiny cues.  But to achieve this, we need to become very aware of the small try from the horse, and to stop asking and reward the horse as soon as we see it.  In my program I recommend stroking and scratching the horse as a reward. It is more reassuring and calming than patting, and corresponds more closely to the way horses communicate in a friendly way with each other. In fact, scratching the mane, withers and shoulder area has been shown to significantly reduce a horse’s heart rate. We often see them grooming and nuzzling each other, but patting is a purely human invention.

 

Training the Left and Right Side of the Equine

Most horses will put a human on their left, or rather, look at the human with their left eye, given the choice. Many horses are nervous when we are on the right, and will try to place us back on the left. As we work with horses, we need to even this out until the horse can accept us on both sides.   As the left is usually the horse’s preferred side, we generally recommend starting each exercise on the left, then moving on to the right, but if you find your horse seems more comfortable with you on the right (and there is a small percentage in which the left preference is reversed), it’s fine to start there. If the horse finds the right difficult, stay a little longer on the left, then try again. Don’t force the horse to accept you on the right, but persist gently until it does.

 

You will discover, for example, that one side of your equine will become difficult and worrisome if you rarely handle them or continually over train one side.  This is because we don’t balance both sides or we strengthen the existing patterns and fatigue the difficult side.  The one sided horse becomes; lazy, evasive, stubborn because the survival area of the brain is activated when we rarely handle or over train one side.  Working on the non dominant side is uncomfortable at the very least and it can even be frightening to a deeply unbalanced horse.  The horse’s goal is to keep its feet underneath itself, so being forced to move on the unbalanced side can result in acts of self-preservation to avoid injury from falling.  By starting on the good side we can eventually we can work both sides equally so they will even out and we’ll have a calm, respectful horse, whether we’re standing on its right side or left side. You’ll find that your horse’s good side and bad side will switch on and off. Once you have your horse desensitized and sensitized well on the right side, it might be worse on its left side and vice-versa. It’s always going to be a bit of a balancing act so this is an extremely important reason why we must NOT allow our horse[s] to become “pasture ornament”!

                                                                                                                                 

Although you will be impressed with the positive changes that can be had with repeated short work sessions or beginning any work with a brief reminder.  You will be amazed with more and longer sessions that are usually necessary to overcome long term bad habit[s] and/or vices.  However, it’s shocking the bad habits and/or vices our horse can develop if left to become a pasture ornament.  The good news is that once our horse is trained and regularly worked with it will find a peaceful, pleasant, trusting relationship with us.  It usually tries to maintain being a Good Horse but unfortunately its Natural born Instincts get in the way so it is our responsibility to help it be a Good Horse with Good Habits,  for this is what our horse wants and we prefer!